Right from the off Penang was completely different to anywhere else we have been so far on our trip. We arrived into the airport (3 hours later than expected – thanks Air Asia!) and caught the bus into Penang’s capital, George Town. We were travelling along real roads, containing real cars, surrounded by busy looking high-rise tower blocks full of flats and offices, and huge government buildings. It all seemed a bit too upmarket…
We checked into our hostel, where they gave us maps… amazing. There appeared to be quite a bit to keep us occupied for the 3 days we had to explore the city so we set off on a stroll about to get our bearings. George Town is a lively cosmopolitan city offering what is said to be the best street food in Malaysia. Banging, if you didn’t know, I love food! We found huge food courts, with about every type of Asian cuisine imaginable, and in the evenings there were areas of the city that became bustling street food markets (known as hawkers markets) with plumes of delightfully fragrant smoke bellowing out from every other stall. The city is very multicultural and attracts tourists from all over Asia, including from other areas of Malaysia, so it was very hard to tell who was a tourist and who was a local; well apart from us and the odd group of other westerners who stood out like a sore thumb; but everyone seemed to revelling in the hustle and bustle, where you can get your fill of Nasi Goreng (fried rice dishes), Mee Goreng (noodle dishes), and lots of other things I can’t pronounce. There was even a stall where you pick a variety of skewered treats and cook them yourself fondue style.
As well as having an epic array of delicious food on offer, George Town is also famous for it’s street art. There are pieces of (in some cases very entertaining) art strewn across the city, with cats appearing to be a bit of a running theme. In India there are dogs galore, and in Malaysia a shit load of cats, which love to come and ‘be your friend’ for a short amount of time, probably after something as the case is with most cats, and generally giving me a good old dose of itchy eye syndrome – fucking cats! Anyway, on one of our days we set out on an ‘art trail’ around the city to try and discover the various murals. Take a look at the photos below.
Another of Penang’s attractions is Penang Hill. For which the ‘catchy’ marketing slogan is, ‘you haven’t seen Penang if you haven’t been up Penang Hill’, or something like that. So, heeding the advice of the Malaysia tourist board, we set out to get ourselves to the top to see what the hype was about. We had the choice of a 30 Ringgit (£5 per person) ride up the funicular railway to the top, or a 5km walk from the entrance of the botanical gardens (for free). Budget in mind, obviously we chose the sweaty uphill mission. Yes it was steep, and yes it was sweaty, but it was all worth it in the end, with some awesome views across George Town, where the city and the hills seemed to intertwine, leading out to the sea with mainland (peninsular) Malaysia in the distance. Sufficiently satisfied with ourselves, we set off again back down the hill, opting for a slightly different route which, instead of following the road, went through bits of the forest, popping out inside the botanical gardens, where we encountered various wildlife, including the ‘rare and endangered’ lesser spotted Asian puppy – I think the rest of the dogs in Asia have probably been eaten or something!
Penang was a great experience, with some great food, some good art, and plenty of tourist attractions to keep everyone happy. We succumbed to one of George Town’s tacky attractions and went into one of the ‘Interactive’ 3D Art galleries. As it turned out, the idea of these places is basically for tourists, like us, to have photos taken with the various pieces of art, which makes it look like you are ‘in the art’. Hmmm, not always the case, but a good gimmick nonetheless. I can’t snub it too much though, it was fun, and we got our tacky photographic mementos from there, which I am sure we will treasure forever, haha.
Soph and I found Penang (and Langkawi as well) to be a fun, sociable place with regards to meeting other travellers – probably thanks to the backpacker bars, notably the Reggae Bar on Chulia Street, which between 6pm – 9pm offers free drinks for ladies. Soph was happy, free G&Ts, and I was happy as this kept the overall bill down and proved to be a great place to meet people in the evenings.
After an eventful 3 days in Penang, we boarded a flight to Borneo (after even more cancellation issues), landing in the capital of Sabah (the north west state of Borneo), Kota Kinabalu.
Here are some more photos from Penang: